Hurd defends UK diplomats

DOUGLAS HURD had come to praise the Foreign Office, not to beg. The Foreign Secretary spoke at Chatham House yesterday to take on the 'silly, shallow, opinionated' views of those who accuse the diplomatic service of not earning its keep.

It was an almost jovial Mr Hurd who told a number of anecdotes to justify the diplomatic machine. This being a Conservative government, his talk was not least aimed at private industry. A constituent in the village of Witney, who a few years ago had never dreamt of being an exporter, was now - thanks to the Foreign Office's commercial work - selling Mickey Mouse clocks to Disneyland.

It emerges that Mr Hurd himself had asked to speak at the Royal Institute for International Affairs for the second time in four months to answer those who thought the diplomatic service could be replaced by a fax machine. For instance, he said, it was in many cases impossible to distinguish between political and commercial work: 'And you don't get the contract unless you've mastered the politics and cultivated the politicians. You don't do that by fax machine.'

He refrained from any detailed prognosis of future demands, he said, because 'I was very anxious not to be described as asking for money'. He did point out that last financial year, pounds 60bn was spent on social security, pounds 30bn on health, pounds 24bn on defence - and pounds 1.36bn on the diplomatic part of Britain's overseas effort run by the Foreign Office.

Rather than 'moving out of our handful of big, handsome embassy buildings abroad into suburban villas', use them to good effect: 'In 1814 the Duke of Wellington bought our embassy in Paris from Napoleon's sister. In 1993 Rover launched its latest model in the forecourt. The Duke would have approved.'

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